Burt Bacharach sang it best “What The World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love” but it also needs… ART. Over the last few weeks we have seen unspeakable acts of evil on our British streets. As a nation we are no stranger to dealing with conflict; as a child I grew up in the era of IRA bombings and the Falklands and Gulf wars, my parents were born during the second world war and my grandparents were born into the horrors of the first world war. Each generation has seen conflict develop in new ways and now my children are growing up in a society where terror is on the street, in a pop concert and on the London Underground.
The New York Times reported that Britain was “reeling” from these attacks. I beg to differ. As a nation we may get knocked but we have an incredible way of picking ourselves up immediately and getting on with it. In the Blitz we made tea, but there is something we do better than that in a crisis: we make ART. Each crisis has seen this country produce art and music on a unprecedented scale. During World War Two music was used to rally troops and muster morale for those left at home. In the 80s Bob Geldof encouraged us to unite and bring famine relief through a charity single and the world’s first ever charity concert, Live Aid.
Two weeks ago, Manchester burst into song after a minute’s silence for the victims of the Ariana Grande concert bombing. Their song? Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis. I’m sure that Oasis had no idea how that song would be used when they recorded it. Yet their art united people in grief and solidarity when they needed comfort and strength. What does this show us? We need to produce more art that helps people overcome everyday challenges. When sing we become one, when we view a work of art we discuss its beauty and our response to it, whenwe watch a film or play we are drawn into someone’s world and have a better understanding of they tick. Art brings us together, fosters community, initiates discussion and brings understanding. Music has the prophetic ability to change atmospheres, communities and individuals.
Yesterday I watched the One Love Manchester concert, thousands of people united through music. On social media I observed that people of all generations were watching this concert, whether they knew who the acts were or not. A national act of defiance in the face of adversity. Though there was mourning for those we have lost, there was also joy that we have our freedom to express ourselves, a joy that was expressed through song.
In 1937 Picasso painted Guernica, it depicts the horror of the Nazi bombing of the town. Some say that its graphic nature makes it to gory to view, however, in the long term I would suggest that it has given us hope. It reminds us that we are not alone and that others understand what we are going through. It reminds us that they got through it and came out the other side. It’s also a warning to future generations not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to stand strong for freedom.
You may feel that your art has nothing to offer the world, but you never know how it will be used. We must learn to not let fear and lack of confidence stop us from creating. So go write a song, a poem, a play, a film, paint a picture, make a dress, carve a sculpture, write a novel, a blog, a manifesto and help someone who needs to know that they are not alone, whether it’s someone living now or in generations to come. Give them hope…
Well it seems a long time ago now, but last year I recorded some more vocals for Darren Hayman’s new project Thankful Villages Volume 2, the long awaited follow up album to Thankful Villages. You may remember that I sang on Darren’s Chants for Socialists album back in 2014 which was recorded at Kelmscott House in Hammersmith.
So…what is a thankful village? Well it’s a village where every soldier returned alive from World War I. This, when you think about the death toll during the first world war, is quite remarkable and to be celebrated. This is a very exciting project as it was supported by Arts Council England funding in a move to help preserve our history through music and art. In a world obsessed with filming everything on mobile phones and social media, history recorded through song and art seems quite refreshing.
Darren has collated well known, mysterious and often controversial stories from these UK hamlets, weaving a rich tapestry of history and intrigue from around our small island. He has been touring the UK over the the last few months, showcasing both the songs and also his beautiful artwork that was inspired by some of his visits to the thankful villages. I was lucky enough to be invited to sing the backing vocals on Wrigsley and I was also part of the choir on Arkholme. If you love British stories and folk music, check out this niche album! To hear Thankful Villages Volume 2 and download your copy, click here.